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Monday, July 19, 2010

Church Leadership Corruption: Discussion 4 Illustrations of Creeping Change

Since local Church leadership is lay leadership, local Church leadership is us – YOU and ME. My intent in writing this essay is so people can evaluate their own behavior, not label or malign others. It also assumes that local Church leadership at the stake and unit level is the only Church leadership corruption that needs to concern ordinary members today. Corrupt Church leadership ABOVE the stake level IS NOT addressed.

Please do not email the content of this blog to others. Send them the link to it, so they can read it here. It is the only way to avoid things getting altered.

Disclaimer: If anything I say violates scripture, modern revelation or current Church guidance like that contained in the Handbook, I withdraw it. I do not have direct access to all these materials, so I cannot be completely certain that what I am asserting is currently accurate. I hope the reader will absorb my general points and not pick at the details. Most of the details are for illustration purposes only.

These series of postings will consist of eight parts and be posted every three days according to the schedule below.


4.    Illustrations of Creeping Change

A.    Using unauthorized resources and materials.

No one can argue with this example because the abuse is so pervasive and Church leadership has been so clear on this subject.

We are to use the curriculum materials designated by the Church, the scriptures and nothing else when teaching lessons. If we adhered to this guidance, false doctrine could never infiltrate the Church.

A teacher in a class I was in once told us exactly what resources she relied on to prepare a particular lesson she was giving that day. There were three books which she showed us by holding them up. I gasped inwardly. All were far removed from the middle of the concentric circles referred to earlier. I do not think her teaching that day strayed from the truth, but it easily could have.

On another occasion, a local leader actually endorsed an upcoming private publication for use in Church lessons. The leader had a member of the class explain how it was designed and told us how it could be purchased for use – all during a Sunday class that was part of the official three hour block meeting schedule.

Recently, we have been instructed not to show slide shows in Sacrament meeting. This edict probably resulted from what was happening in Sacrament meetings where slide shows were used. I can only speculate, since they were never shown in a Sacrament meeting I attended. Slide presentations will probably inch back into Sacrament meeting by people making exceptions.

I used to think that the Church just had a bloated sense of how good its materials were and that is why it told us not to use outside sources. After the academic legal training I have received, I can see a different motive and a compelling one – copyright laws. By restricting materials used in a Church setting to those produced by the Church, we avoid the problem of violating copyright. By using something else, we may be breaking the law. I wonder if the Spirit can be present in lessons where the teacher is violating the law?

B.    Excesses in money, food, music and/or decorations.

In general, we are told that the authorized budget should cover all expenses for any events, including food. Exceptions are allowed, but further guidance states that, if a fee is required for a Relief Society activity, for example, then a non-fee option should also be available. Members can be asked to bring a food item to Church events, but it should be an exception and it should never be a “burden.”

As a single person or a part of a couple, as I am now, I have protested in vain that requirements to bring a food item are a burden for very simple reasons. I do not have food preparation or serving utensils for more than two people, nor do I buy food in the necessary volume. For me, bringing a food item to a Church event always involves a special trip to the grocery store, in addition to much planning. Is it any small wonder I often choose to forego it?

Often, local units get around Church guidelines by some of the following:

Requiring people to bring an item, usually food.
A person paying out of pocket for additional things.
Requiring people to pay for something.
Raiding other auxiliaries’ budgets to pay for the excesses.

Excesses can escalate when the above measures are resorted to. When a wealthy and willing individual volunteers to cover expenses or donates money or goods, it can still have negative effects. It creates expectations. If a person of modest means later serves in the same calling; will he or she be viewed as a failure if future events cannot be funded or supplied as they have in the past when an individual(s) has augmented them?

If budget guidelines are not adhered to, then things often escalate into people being required to bring food to every activity. This is obviously a burden. New members will be trained improperly; because they will inaccurately conclude that this is okay and continue the practice on their own, nary the wiser.

Fee based activities create the illusion that spirituality can only be “bought” and bought only by those who have the money.

Believe it or not, I have been served the following items at Church events (all examples occurred after the Church’s massive revamping of the budget program) – chicken cordon bleu, chocolate covered strawberries, Baked Alaska, flan. Sometimes the amenities included fine china, linen napkins, fine stemware and other similar items.

Are we eating our way through local unit funds because of our activities? Can we justify this? Isn’t this hard to justify – especially if we are all overweight anyway?

Occasionally, announcements like event publicity or programs were privately and professionally printed on expensive paper. I have had to commission similar items in my secular activities. I know how much this costs.

Music should be gospel praise. It should be conducive to producing an atmosphere of worship. Often, it crosses the line into secular performance where people and their accomplishments are extolled.

Sometimes decorations have been so elaborate, I have wondered what private fortune was expended to pay for them.

We have been cautioned not to love money, our substance, our "fine apparel” or “the adorning of [our] Churches” more than we love “the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted.” (See Mormon 8:37, 39). Can we really assume this scripture is only referring to permanent, rather than temporary adorning of our Churches?

A white elephant gift event I attended for Relief Society once included items like a Sheri Dew hardback book, still in the shrink wrap. I was horrified to discover most of the white elephant items, with the exception of mine, were newly purchased expensive items. The resulting competition to obtain these items represented a greedy, materialistic, free-for-all; rather than a Church event.

One lavish event seems to lead to more lavish events, where people are determined to outdo each other in an unhealthy and unholy competition.

Often, events are food and decorations. If you remove the food and décor there is nothing left.

Excess unchecked is then used as justification for excess in the future.

It is difficult to force oneself to follow rules and guidelines that you know will not be enforced and others will not follow.

Local unit leaders should not allow excesses in time, effort and money, that should be better spent elsewhere or conserved for something more important. Our goals and objectives for Church events should be spiritual. If they are spiritual, then why is so much time and money being expended on them?

C.   Adding procedures, embellishments and events to authorized activities.

Additions to authorized activities can be as seemingly innocuous as “lunch group” and “book club.” These activities are now easier to justify under the new flexibility and latitude with Relief Society meetings than they were when I experienced them.

These events were monthly. Sisters would sign up on a sheet sent round in Relief Society on Sunday and then go out to lunch as a group at a local restaurant. Book club was handled similarly. Signup occurred during Relief Society and the event was held at a private home. Since these events were promoted and sanctioned in this manner by the Relief Society presidency, they were soon viewed as official functions. It became sanctioned because of the complicity and acquiescence by local leaders.

I once had a visiting teaching companion tell me that she could not come with me to visit one of our sisters because she was going to the Relief Society lunch group. I decided it was wrong to subordinate visiting teaching to the lunch group, especially given that the sister in question was only available at that particular time. I visited the sister on my own and never made it to the lunch group for that reason.

In one unit, and later a stake, besides having neat hair and a somber expression and needing to wear white shirts, ties and dress conservatively, young men were “required” to have black or dark pants and solid color ties to pass the Sacrament. All young men were “required” to serve the Sacrament with their right hands, even if they were left-handed. Left arms had to be held behind the back with the elbow folded, so that the arm was covering the belt. Leadership would watch and police the young men accordingly.

I could write numerous other examples. I will limit myself to a few.

In one unit, men were required to wear a suit coat and white shirt to do anything in Church, whether it was speak, pray, teach or anything else. No exceptions were ever made.

Talmadge in The Great Apostasy illustrated how pagan influences were incorporated into the Church. We may not be susceptible to incorporating “pagan” practices today; but we are certainly in danger of incorporating “secular” ones.

Often introductions, profiles, bios of members in Church events or Church literature contain nothing except phrase extolling secular accomplishments.

Power Point presentations used in Church events become more reminiscent of a business conference, than a spiritual event.

D.   Removing Authorized Parts

Removing authorized parts of activities and events usually goes hand in hand with adding what you want to add. Often, people assume that because an event is going overtime, for example, that it is okay to remove a hymn or something else from the program, in order to move the event along. Eventually this can become more common than including the item. When that happens, then authorized parts have, in effect, been removed.

Often things that get removed are not as “fun” as what has been added. In the former Enrichment program in Relief Society, the “Topic Presentation” was often omitted in favor of other things.

The early Church went so far as to eliminate baptism by immersion in favor of sprinkling, tithing and baptisms for the dead.

Stake and unit leaders are given latitude to make exceptions where exceptions are warranted. I respect that. But, they cannot be labeled as “exceptions” if the same ones are made year after year. When “exceptions” become the norm then it is accurately termed as “intentional disobedience.”

Exceptions are when guidelines are temporarily altered. Permanent alterations are intentional disobedience.

3 comments:

  1. I hope others are reading this. You have done a very nice job and it is not in the least bit offensive.

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  2. I find your comments very accurate and reflective of the current 'issues' that are afecting the growth of the church and kingdom. However, I do get very concerned when I see members refer to food preparation and donation as a 'burden'. Your description of Church policy is obviously correct. When I consider the covenants we make in the temple I am reminded of how small a consideration it is to donate food. Of course there has to be specific control over this kind of assignment so as to not over-burden particular members. Those in authority must give the sanction for such things. When you go on to talk about elaborate decoration, as well as food, I can see how the case is serious . . .in America. In the UK we have an alltogether opposite problem. We have few activities and little expense used. We are really happy when we get the chance to share food at a well planned activity.
    With regards to activities being 'spiritual' I understand that inspiration should be the source of them all, however some activities should just be 'fun' and 'entertaining'. Having a social activity where we have a good laugh is not at all wrong. Remember how the saints danced in the evenings as they crossed the plains? The fact is . . . some events do require time and money as well as inspiration. It is not wrong if it is appropriate, balanced and kept in check.

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  3. I am a church leader and this is helping me a lot. This is often a tabu subject, thank you for bringing it up so clear to me.

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